For an entire month، most streets and alleyways in every village، town and metropolis across Turkey are filled with the thudding sound of drum beats in the darkest hour of night.
This month is Ramadan، during which time it is believed that the verses of the Quran were revealed to the Prophet Mohammed. Among other things، Muslims are expected to avoid food and drink from dawn until dusk during Ramadan.
Around 2am every night، Mehmet Sezgin، a 20-year-old student، takes to the streets like his fellow drummers across the country to alert observant Muslims that it will soon be light and it is time to prepare and consume a pre-dawn meal - Suhur.
The tradition of drummers taking to the streets - although still going strong in rural Anatolia - has become a much-maligned and endangered one in urban areas. Detractors say it is an obsolete tradition in the age of alarm clocks and smart phones، while others describe it as a nuisance disturbing the sleep of the ill and those who are not interested in waking up. Yet others say it has simply become a way to harass people for money.
Sezgin took up Ramadan drumming this year after the drummer in his village of Zekeriyakoy on the northern-most fringes of Istanbul decided to retire both from his job and from drumming last year.
He enjoys the full support of his mates who accompany him as he walks through the village banging away on his drums. The villagers، too، appear happy as they come to the window and cheer him as he passes by.
“It is good to keep such traditions alive. It doesn’t harm anyone and is a bit of fun for all of us،” says Sezgin.
Across town، Osman Avci and Enver Kaya wake up to the beats of another drummer. The pre-dawn meal of Suhur is likely to be the only daily meal they will have alongside their family members for most of Ramadan. It will probably also be the only meal they do not prepare themselves during Ramadan.
They are both executive chefs at a catering firm that has been contracted by the Sariyer district municipality in Istanbul to provide the after-dusk meal - Iftar- that marks the end of the day’s fast.
Although there are no hard and fast rules، it has become customary in big cities like Istanbul for local municipalities to organise huge communal iftar events. The Sariyer municipality adopted the novel idea of hosting the communal iftar meal in a different neighbourhood of the district every evening in order to allow more people to attend.
Avci and Kaya are responsible for ensuring that anywhere between 700 to 1،500 people are provided a three-course meal every iftar at a different location.
Some things never change Unlike the Ramadan drummers، change caught up with Avci and Kaya’s professional tasks before they even started their careers. Stringent health and sanitation regulations mean that these days only large catering firms can meet required standards for providing meals to large numbers of people.
What has not changed though are Istanbul summers and the climate in any kitchen. Summers in Istanbul are notorious for their stifling conditions. The temperature might read a pleasant 28-30 degrees Celsius، but factor in the roughly 75 percent humidity levels and it makes for a very muggy and sticky feeling.